Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is hosting German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for talks Monday in Kyiv as Western leaders express solidarity with Ukraine amid fears of a Russian invasion.
Scholz told reporters Sunday that Russia’s buildup of troops along the border with Ukraine is a “very, very serious threat,” and that his Monday visit to Kyiv and a Tuesday stop in Moscow for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin are about finding “a way to ensure peace in Europe.”
Ukraine on Sunday requested that Russia and the other members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe take part in a meeting within two days to discuss the Russian troop movements.
“If Russia is serious when it talks about the indivisibility of security in the OSCE space, it must fulfill its commitment to military transparency in order to de-escalate tensions and enhance security for all,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted.
The U.S. mission to the USCE expressed its support, saying in its own message, “The time for transparency is now.”
Russia has denied its plans to invade Ukraine.
U.S. President Joe Biden assured Zelenskiy in a phone call Sunday of the U.S. commitment to “Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The White House said in a statement that Biden “made clear [to Zelenskiy] that the United States would respond swiftly and decisively, together with its allies and partners, to any further Russian aggression against Ukraine.”
Biden has ruled out sending U.S. troops to fight alongside Ukrainians in the event of a Russian invasion, while vowing to impose “swift and severe” economic sanctions.
The White House said Biden and Zelenskiy “agreed on the importance of continuing to pursue diplomacy and deterrence” to a Moscow invasion, although Western diplomatic overtures to Putin have so far failed to end the stalemate.
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, told CNN’s “State of the Union” show that the U.S. cannot predict whether Russia might invade this week or after the Beijing Olympics end in a week, but that there is “a distinct possibility there will be a major military action.”
While the U.S. has warned for several months of the threat of a Russian attack, Sullivan said “in the last few days” Moscow has accelerated its military buildup.
Biden, in an hour-long call Saturday with Putin, warned the Russian leader that invading Ukraine would cause “widespread human suffering.” Biden said the United States and its allies remained committed to diplomacy to end the crisis but were “equally prepared for other scenarios.”
Russia said Biden continued to fail to address Moscow’s main security concerns, including ruling out Ukraine’s possible membership in the 30-country NATO military alliance.
The Western allies have called the idea of Russian veto power over NATO membership a nonstarter, but said they are willing to negotiate other security issues, such as positioning of missiles in NATO counties closest to Russia and NATO troop training exercises.
Russia’s military has more than 130,000 troops to the north of Ukraine in Russian ally Belarus and along Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia, while also positioning warships to the south in the Black Sea along the Crimean Peninsula that Russia unilaterally annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
“I’m not handicapping what will happen,” Sullivan said, but added that the U.S. and its allies would impose a “significant strategic [economic] loss” on Russia if it attacks Ukraine.
While ruling out sending the U.S. military to fight in Ukraine, Biden sent 5,000 U.S. troops to NATO countries in eastern European countries closest to Russia to help bolster their fighting forces.
The U.S. has urged all Americans living in Ukraine to leave immediately, and the Defense Department has pulled out 160 military advisers who had been assisting the Ukrainian government.
Sullivan said the U.S. believes a Russian attack could start with a barrage of missiles and aerial bombings followed by a ground invasion.
“Civilians could be killed regardless of their nationality,” he said.
Numerous countries have ordered their diplomatic personnel to leave Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, while some are keeping smaller contingents in consulates in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, near the Polish border.
Several international airlines have stopped flying into Ukraine because of the impending threat of warfare, although Ukraine said it has not closed its airspace.
Dutch airline KLM said Saturday that it has canceled flights to Ukraine until further notice.
Dutch worries about the potential danger in Ukrainian airspace are high in the wake of the 2014 shootdown of a Malaysian airliner over an area of eastern Ukraine held by Russia-backed rebels. All 298 people aboard were killed, including 198 Dutch citizens.
The Ukrainian charter airline SkyUp said Sunday that its flight from Madeira, Portugal, to Kyiv was diverted to the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, after the Irish leasing company that owns the plane said it was banning flights in Ukrainian airspace.
Some material in this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters.